Qualcomm turns service provider with secure edge solution for IIoT

Many of the more disruptive enterprise and IoT mobile services will be built around edge technologies such as ETSI’s Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC), which envisages tight integration with mobile networks (perhaps even to the extent of collocating small cells and mini-servers).

Qualcomm has tapped into the trend with the launch of Wireless Edge Services, which provide security and management capabilities on-chip for large-scale IoT deployments.

The suite of services will provide on-chip software which will enable enterprises or cloud service providers to provision, connect and manage the lifecycle of IoT devices from their cloud platforms. The software will be exposed through new APIs (application programming interfaces) which will be available later this year on certain Qualcomm chipsets – initially the MDM9206 for industrial 4G, the MDM9628 for automotive LTE, and the QCA4020, which supports WiFi, Bluetooth and Zigbee for home users. At a later stage, the system will be extended to some Snapdragon SoC models.

These IoT-oriented chips will generate security keys and use the APIs to link to services, from Qualcomm itself and from cloud providers, which can potentially manage every transaction from the cloud to the IoT node. Qualcomm says this will unlock new uses cases and business models by improving the exchange of information with wireless edge devices.

The announcement was short on technical details, but Peter Carson, a director of product management for LTE, said there would be a unique key for each chipset. “We’re not disclosing exactly how we do it, but it’s based on a unique key for each chipset,” he said. “Only Qualcomm has the key, and many services flow from this security.”

On-chip security is the highlight of the proposition, but it is also designed to ease the challenge of scaling up IoT deployments.

In all cases, the software installed on these chips and in the cloud will allow enterprises and service providers to:
• issue software updates and security patches remotely and safely
• respond to cyberattacks and compromised devices
• support zero-touch management for large numbers of devices through services such as plug-and-play onboarding
• support on-demand feature activation, and third party service enablement throughout the lifecycle.

The platform can also support a new Chipsets-as-a-Service business model, in which the value of certain chipset capabilities can be realized through services.

“We believe very close collaboration between cloud computing and edge devices is necessary to address the challenges of the industrial IoT ecosystem,” said Ray Guan, deputy general manager of Baidu Cloud.

“Eventually, all IoT integrators and clouds could be supported,” said Carson, though there was no light shed on whether enterprises would trust a system whose keys were entirely in one vendor’s control; or how Qualcomm’s approach could coexist with others within the same organization.

Tellingly, the companies which are quoted as supporting the idea – Baidu and Alibaba – are both from China, a country whose relations with Qualcomm are thawing just as the US chip designer comes under regulatory pressure (not to mention a hostile takeover bid) in many other locations.

Other Chinese firms were also lending support – Gizwits, a large provider of IoT cloud services and software; Mobike, a connected-bike rental company; and MeiG Smart, an IoT module maker in Shenzhen.

“We see a strong synergy between Qualcomm wireless edge services and Alibaba Cloud Link,” said Wei Ku, general manager of Alibaba Cloud IoT, in the press release.

And these companies are web giants and service providers, not network operators. Like Nokia (see below), Qualcomm can see the opportunity to extend its reach from its traditional markets to target webscale and enterprise services players – in case these organizations, not the MNOs, are the ones to benefit from everything becoming connected. Of course, it will not turn its back on traditional operator partners which manage to carve out a high value role in IoT and edge compute – indeed, China Mobile and Verizon platforms will both be supported in the first issue of the software. However, it is no longer an inevitability that the MNO will be a central part of the value chain.

Qualcomm plans to offer an IoT software developer kit for the MDM9206 in June, to pave the way for the new services, which will be available late this year. The SDK will support Alibaba’s Cloud Link One, China Mobile’s OneNet, Gizwits and Verizon ThingSpace.